SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling. This Royal Rumble edition includes Ric Flair discussing the famed ’92 Royal Rumble; John Morrison discussing Rumble memories and his role as the “Benjamin Button” of pro wrestling; Demolition reminiscing about facing off in the ’89 Rumble; handicapping this year’s Rumble with Court Bauer; the Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff; and Five Questions with MMA fighter and member of the Four Horsewomen Marina Shafir.
The Shoot: The “Nature Boy” Ric Flair
Ric Flair captured the World Wrestling Federation championship by winning the 1992 Royal Rumble. With an all-star cast of 16 Hall of Famers, the ’92 Rumble is considered one of the greatest Rumbles of all time, and Flair’s legendary performance was further enhanced by the legendary Bobby “The Brain” Heenan on commentary. Here, Flair reveals the enormity of the moment and brings fans behind the curtain of the famed ’92 Rumble.
With A Tear in My Eye
You can trust Jake Roberts. At least I did.
I went for my work out on Sunday morning on January 19, 1992. I’ve always had a soft spot for Albany, New York, and that’s exactly where I found myself. That night was the night of the Royal Rumble in a building called the Knickerbocker Arena, and that’s the night I became officially recognized as a 9-time world champion.
Jake the Snake first told me that morning that I was getting the belt and winning the Rumble. I honestly had no idea. Then, as soon as I arrived in the building, Vince McMahon and Pat Patterson called me in Vince’s office and told me I was going over.
I’ve been called the “sixty minute man” before, but I gave the term new meaning that night. I lasted for over an hour in the Rumble, which was a record at the time, and I had a lot of fun doing it with some of the best in the business.
I did a hundred free squats and a hundred pushups before the match, and I was ready to go. The black-sequined robe I wore to the ring is now in a framed case at the house of my good friend Darius Rucker, the frontman for Hootie and the Blowfish.
The Bulldog and DiBiase opened the match, and I came in third. There were 16 Hall of Famers in this Rumble, which doesn’t even include The Undertaker, who will be number 17. That’s over half the field.
I spent my night feeding guys and taking bumps. I preferred to give myself up instead of being offensively aggressive, and I’d been feeding guys my whole life. I had memorable moments in the Rumble with Greg Valentine, the Barbarian, Sgt. Slaughter, the Big Boss Man, and Rick Martel. I locked up with Jim Duggan, who I’d once wrestled for an hour in Mid-South Wrestling. My old friend Jimmy Snuka was in the ring, and my mind went back in time when I saw Kerry Von Erich. I thought of a packed house of 50,000 people at Texas Stadium as we fought in a singles match for the NWA world heavyweight championship. Kerry’s star, sadly, had descended, but that night, I was rising. Working with so many of the boys that night, it was as if my life came full circle on a cold night in Albany.
I was also working with the toughest wrestler in the history of the business: Haku.
When I’m backing up from Haku in the Rumble, it’s real. Haku is the most wonderful, kindest man, but I’ll offer you a little advice. If you ever have him over your house, don’t invite anyone else—he’s a cannibal. In all seriousness, his piledriver was one of the best ever.
So many people remember me for my “Flair flop,” which I learned from Johnny Valentine. I’ve been so blessed throughout my career, and thank god for YouTube and the WWE Network. People still love watching my matches, but I was far from the only one in the Rumble worth watching.
Shawn Michaels had just left the Rockers, and we also had a chance to work together in the Rumble.
I already knew the kid was special, but this was the night I saw the brilliance of Shawn Michaels. He had such great position, great psychology, and could take big bumps. The Bulldog got the feed of a lifetime from Shawn in that Rumble. My most talked-about WWE matches are this Rumble and my ‘Mania retirement match, and I worked with Shawn in both of them. He is one of the all-time greats.
Speaking of the greatest of all time, the highlight of that match was working with Roddy Piper. Hot Rod hadn’t been to bed, like me, in three days, but you never would have known it. He was electric that night, and we always brought the best out in each other. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t think of Roddy and how much I miss him.
It’s funny, I was supposed to be managed during my whole WWE run by Bobby Heenan. I love Bobby and we became great friends when I first broke into the business, but “The Brain” wouldn’t manage me. Bobby told Vince, “I didn’t sign up for this.” Bobby thought we’d have had a little too much fun on the road, and he said those days were over. So I worked with Curt Hennig, which was a blessing, and I cannot picture my time without Mr. Perfect.
Hulk Hogan was part of that Rumble too, and he was the golden goose. Everything Hogan touched turned to gold, but this match was my opportunity. We had such an incredible cast of people in this match and I was just fortunate enough to be there, and even more fortunate to be the winner.
My interview after the match was as real as could be. I’d been reduced to almost nothing in WCW by Jim Herd at that point in my career, and my moment in the WWE—at this Rumble—completely rejuvenated me. In some ways, it was my redemption, and I spoke straight from the heart after the match in my interview. Standing next to Gene Okerlund, Bobby Heenan, and Curt Hennig, I truly felt like I was The Man in all of professional wrestling.
I spent the night celebrating with Curt Hennig, Bobby Heenan, and Gene Okerlund. Gene’s drink—straight up, dirty, with olives—was flowing that night. We loaded up on dirty martinis, as we also did during the Bischoff era. If I could turn back the hands of time to that night, then believe me, I would love to take another ride.
That Rumble is the second best win of my career. My victory at Starrcade over Harley Race for my second world title will forever be number one, but the Royal Rumble in 1992 is right next to it. Winning the Rumble remains, just like I said that night in Albany, one of the greatest nights in the history of my life.
~ Ric Flair
News of the Week
Looking back in order to look forward in the WWE brings us to the 2011 Royal Rumble. That Rumble opened with CM Punk and Daniel Bryan as the first two competitors in the over-the-top battle royal.
Neither Punk nor Bryan won that 2011 Rumble (Bryan was eliminated by Punk, and Punk was, fittingly, eliminated by John Cena) but the match signified a new guard in the WWE.
Yes, there were nostalgic returns, most notably Kevin Nash as Diesel and Booker T, but the focus was the future of the company. Even the winner, Alberto Del Rio, represented a fresh face on the marquee for WWE.
Who will stand out in this year’s Rumble? Stars such as The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, and Bill Goldberg give the match added legitimacy, but the focus of the Rumble needs to remain on building the younger stars, like Dean Ambrose, Big E, and Cesaro.
Regardless of the Rumble’s winner, the most significant part of Sunday evening will be watching how WWE positions its next tier of stars.
Looking ahead to WrestleMania 33, the women have a tall task of exceeding the fantastic triple threat match between Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch from WrestleMania 32.
An easy way to solve that conundrum is to give the women the multi-person ladder match at ‘Mania that is normally attached to the Intercontinental title.
A women’s ladder match between Flair, Banks, Lynch, Bayley, Alexa Bliss, and Nia Jax would highlight every star in the division and allow the women to shine like never before at a WrestleMania.
There would be a question of what to do with the two championship belts, but the larger issue is the lack of depth in the division. Matches inevitably grow less special after seeing the same wrestlers battle repeatedly. Banks and Flair fight all the time, but they are forced to because of the lack of women in WWE. A strong match at ‘Mania will hopefully lead to a continued focus on the women’s division in 2017.
In other news…
• Raw went off-the-air on Monday with Brock Lesnar, Bill Goldberg, and The Undertaker all sharing the ring. Smackdown countered with a lumberjack match between Dean Ambrose and The Miz. The advantage, clearly, goes to Raw.
• It’s true: Kurt Angle will not be providing color commentary for the 5 Star Wrestling show this Saturday in Scotland, opening the door for Angle to enter the Royal Rumble. Angle is healthy, living clean, and in phenomenal shape at the age of 48, and I have a feeling we will see the Olympic hero return to a WWE canvas for the first time in eleven years this Sunday.
• On the subject of Royal Rumble returns, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig surprised fans in 2002 – and the combination of Diesel and Booker T coming back to WWE in 2011 was also memorable.
• “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan won the first ever Royal Rumble in 1988. Duggan shared with SI how he was first connected with his trademark two-by-four:
“I’ve been carrying the two-by-four longer than I’ve been carrying the flag. I started off as ‘Big’ Jim Duggan with short hair and clean shaven and a long gold bathrobe, and that didn’t work. I went through two or three different characters before I found ‘Hacksaw’, but back in the old days, this could be a very dangerous business just getting to and back from the ring. People would spit at ya, they’d punch you, and I was a bad guy then. I was sitting in the dressing room one night, all bruised up and covered with loogies, and Bruiser Brody comes in and says, ‘Duggan, if you carry something to the ring, bring something you can use. Forget those feathered boas and sequined robes.’ I saw a piece of wood, so I came up waving that piece of wood, and it was like parting the Red Sea. I got back and forth to the ring, and I’ve been carrying the two-by-four ever since.”
• My Friday evening was spent at the XWA show in Rhode Island, which featured Ricochet defeating Travis “Flip” Gordon. Ricochet is so smooth and precise in the ring, he can fly, and he can also work on the ground. Ricochet would add prestige to the WWE Intercontinental championship, and there is no reason he should not win the IWGP junior heavyweight championship this year.
• There is no more exciting match in pro wrestling than the Royal Rumble, and part of the excitement is making predictions. Disco Inferno shared his Rumble prediction with SI.com:
“Charlotte Flair,” said Disco. “She’s the hottest act on the roster right now and the WWE could capitalize on the popularity of the Women’s March. It would be like putting a filly in the Kentucky Derby.”
• The 1994 Royal Rumble included the brilliant storytelling of Bret and Owen Hart against the Quebecers for the tag team titles, which featured Owen’s heel turn on Bret. Owen explained himself in this interview (and uttered the infamous “That’s why I kicked your leg out of your leg!”) and began his run as an extremely talented villain.